Why you need zinc in your diet


Athletics Weekly - - Contents -

CER­TAIN vi­ta­mins and min­er­als are al­ways top of an ath­lete’s agenda thanks to their pur­ported im­mune-boost­ing, in­jury-de­fy­ing prop­er­ties, yet many of us never think about zinc. It’s to our cost be­cause this min­eral, found in plen­ti­ful amounts in meat, milk, eggs, fish, nuts and pulses and whole­grain ce­re­als, is es­sen­tial for per­for­mance and health.

Zinc helps to keep the im­mune sys­tem primed for at­tack from ill­ness and viruses and is needed for cell divi­sion and wound heal­ing. With too lit­tle in your diet, the chances of you bounc­ing back from in­jury or a bout of the snif­fles will be com­pro­mised.

Why it’s cru­cial for ath­letes

There are other rea­sons to en­sure you get enough. “Zinc is needed for growth, cell re­pro­duc­tion and testos­terone pro­duc­tion,” says the sports nutri­tion­ist Anita Bean, au­thor of Sports Sup­ple­ments: which nu­tri­tional sup­ple­ments re­ally work (Blooms­bury, £12.99).

“In the­ory, a de­fi­ciency may re­duce the body’s an­abolic hor­mone lev­els and ad­versely af­fect mus­cle mass and strength.” Stud­ies have shown that a lack of zinc can im­pair per­for­mance.

How it can cut a cold short

Ear­lier this year, a meta-anal­y­sis of stud­ies in­volv­ing over 200 peo­ple and pub­lished in the jour­nal Open Fo­rum In­fec­tious Dis­eases con­cluded that zinc lozenges can triple the speed of re­cov­ery from a cold – heart­en­ing news for those of you whose train­ing is fre­quently stalled by the virus.

How­ever, your zinc at­tack needs care­ful plan­ning. Ac­cord­ing to the team of Fin­nish re­searchers who con­ducted the trial, doses need to be much higher than

those com­monly rec­om­mended by nu­tri­tion­ists to have the de­sired ef­fect.

In­deed, daily doses of zinc ranged from 80 to 92mg a day—sig­nif­i­cantly higher than the rec­om­mended daily amount (RDA) in the UK, which is 5.56.5mg a day for men and 4.07.0mg for women.

Other stud­ies have pro­duced sim­i­larly promis­ing re­sults. And while it’s not cer­tain how the min­eral helps to aid cold re­cov­ery, it seems to have an­tivi­ral prop­er­ties that pre­vent the cold virus from repli­cat­ing or at­tach­ing to nasal mem­branes.

Where do you find it?

Good di­etary sources in­clude meat, milk, eggs, fish, chick­peas, baked beans, pump­kin seeds and muesli. Peanut but­ter, dried figs and Brazil nuts are rea­son­able sources, too. In health food shops, zinc is widely sold ei­ther in its own

right as lozenges or as a ZMA (Zinc, Mag­ne­sium As­par­tate) sup­ple­ment.

“It’s claimed that ZMA com­bi­na­tion can boost testos­terone pro­duc­tion, in­crease strength and im­prove mus­cle mass as well as pro­mote re­cov­ery af­ter ex­er­cise,” Bean says.

“One study in 2000 found that ZMA in­creased testos­terone and strength in a group of foot­ball play­ers, but the study was small and with a high dropout rate.”

Not all zinc is equal

Zinc sup­ple­ments and lozenges vary sub­stan­tially and not all seem to of­fer the same ben­e­fits. In the Fin­nish trial, par­tic­i­pants took zinc ac­etate lozenges or a placebo with the zinc tabs com­ing up trumps. The re­searchers pointed out that only prop­erly for­mu­lated zinc ac­etate lozenges in­crease the rate of re­cov­ery from the com­mon cold and that many other zinc prod­ucts on the mar­ket ap­pear to have ei­ther too low doses of the min­eral or con­tain sub­stances that bind zinc ions, such as cit­ric acid.

Dr Harri Hemilä, one of the sci­en­tists be­hind the cold trial, sug­gests that “given the strong ev­i­dence of ef­fi­cacy and the low risk of ad­verse ef­fects, com­mon cold pa­tients may al­ready be en­cour­aged to try zinc ac­etate lozenges not ex­ceed­ing 100mg of el­e­men­tal zinc per day for treat­ing their colds.”

Can you get too much?

“Very high in­takes of zinc – more than 50mg a day – can in­ter­fere with the ab­sorp­tion of iron and other min­er­als, lead­ing to a pos­si­ble iron de­fi­ciency,” Bean says.

“It’s claimed that ZMA com­bi­na­tion can boost testos­terone pro­duc­tion, in­crease strength and im­prove mus­cle mass as well as pro­mote re­cov­ery af­ter ex­er­cise”

Zinc: cru­cial for cell growth and mus­cle gains

Muesli: a good source of zinc

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